Monday, 18 March 2013

What are the priorities for a pastor? (Part 1)

(N.B. This is the original version, I have since thought a little more about the section on prayer and what this might look like in practice. Also I have not included the Appendices, sorry!)

In the church today it seems a pastor is required to be a preacher, a trainer, an evangelist, a youth worker, an administrator, a life coach, an entrepreneur and a businessman; have an open office door, be financially savvy, visit the flock and numerous other things. There seems to be enough to fill the week 4 times over at least. Not only that, but it is highly unlikely that many, or any people, are gifted in all of these ways!

What I have in mind as I write this essay is the average UK church with one full-time paid minister. When there are more staff members I envisage that extra jobs, that were not possible with just the pastor, would be taken up and other jobs would be expanded. But, I also think that the lead pastor in a larger team should be much like the lone pastor in priorities.

So, what are the biblical priorities for a lone pastor with a team of elders around him?

The most common answers I found as I searched the internet for blog posts and articles, as well as canvassing friends on twitter, were mainly along the lines of preaching, prayer, guarding the truth, vision, shepherding the flock, loving people, and administering the sacraments. The answers were very similar, although what each one meant to the people who responded would probably vary, maybe even quite significantly. But, I also had more generic categories such as: Jesus, their family and the church.
The job description in Appendix A is very broad, it includes strategic thinking, preaching, developing leaders, leading the elders, keeping the church on mission, carrying out church discipline, to name but a few.

So where do these ideas come from, just what people see happening, or what they see and think should be happening instead, or from the Bible, or a bit of each of those?

I want to look at some of the key passages in scripture which speak of pastors and their role and as we do that draw in other verses to back them up.
Hopefully as this happens we will be able to build a good picture of what the average pastor should be doing.
Then, after that is established, I will aim to break that down into an average week looking at how many hours each area of the role should take. Again this will vary and isn’t meant to be perfect, but just an overall guideline.


One of the things those gifted in the church are gifted for is “to equip His people for works of service…” (Eph 4:12a). A pastors role must at least partly be to bring this about. With that in mind, here we go.

In Scripture it is undeniable that preaching and teaching the word of God is one of the primary duties of a pastor (Acts 6:2, 1 Tim 4:13, 2 Tim 1:13-14, 2:2, 4:2). The preaching of the gospel and the application of it to the lives of those listening will not just involve boldly declaring good news, but also teaching in a way which means people can refute false teaching and avoid it like the plague. So, the idea of guarding the truth also comes into this, faithfully standing firm upon, and passing on, the authentic gospel. In Paul’s first letter to Timothy he makes it very clear that Timothy is to warn people about what is false, expose the lies, and show how destructive it can be to follow them (1 Tim 4:1-6).
The context of 1 Timothy is especially key as Timothy was sent by Paul, the founder of the Ephesian church, to carry out the job of pastoring the church and appointing elders in his absence. The whole letter contains priorities for Timothy, some of which are specific to Ephesus, but also many which are for general application.
Titus is also exhorted by Paul to teach, and in chapter 2:1-5 specific groups of people are mentioned. This must mean applying scripture specifically as it is preached, but it also must include personal conversations or visits, which we will come onto later.
Not only are these very personal letters of the apostle Paul to young pastors extremely clear on of the importance of preaching but, if we look at Acts 6:2-4, it seems preaching is one of the highest priorities for the Twelve too. As the needs of people increase, and the church seeks to reach out, others are appointed to oversee those tasks so that the Twelve can focus on preaching and prayer.
Another way the priority of preaching is seen is purely in the lives of Paul, Peter and the other pioneers. They always preached the gospel. Paul preached Christ and Him crucified. Throughout the book of Acts leaders of the mission trips or fledgling churches spoke the truth, preached it far and wide.

I think particularly in small churches the preaching done in main gathering(s) of the congregation has to be the major priority as it could be the only, but will most certainly be the main, source of input into the lives of the church members at large. As church grows there may be home groups and other smaller gatherings, which the pastor leads, but the central gathering must be his priority. In larger churches this still needs to be the priority, but there will be less pressure for the pastor to be leading home groups and other areas of ministry if other leaders have been trained to do so. His focus beyond preaching will be in training them and encouraging them and identifying new leaders (see below).


As we have already looked at Acts 6:2-4 we need to add prayer to our list of pastoral priorities. The Twelve are very clear that they need to be devoted to the word of God and prayer. It seems strange that something all Christians are exhorted to do (Eph 6:18-20, 1 Thess 5:17) could be something that a pastor is specifically to do as part of his paid working time. But, I think it must be the case. Pastors are to look after their flock (1 Peter 5:2) along with the elders, and upholding them before the Lord in prayer is one of the best ways to do that. To be devoted to prayer shows humility and reliance upon the grace of God in life, and the Spirit of God to reveal the truth of the word in preaching. I don’t think it means that the pastor needs to be locked away in his study for hours on end just praying on his own. I think the devotion to prayer spoken of in Acts 6 would include praying with other leaders, praying before and during sermon prep praying as he meets with church members and so on. Jesus prays regularly throughout the gospels, the Apostles pray at various times in the book of Acts, and within Paul’s letters there are numerous prayers recorded. Prayer must be a priority.

(Part 2 to come.....)

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